It's the System, Stupid
What people don't seem to be grasping is the fact that neither Obama nor Bush are the causes of today's societal malaise, but, to varying degrees, effects of a badly structured and poorly understood system and the philosophy embodied in the system. They are both creatures of their — that is, our — times. Both men, as well as virtually all others we regard as leaders, exhibit a failure to exercise the human capacity to rise above flawed ideologies and a defective institutional environment and work to improve the common good to bring it closer to conformity with the precepts of the natural law.
Both men, in conformity with the Zeitgeist that afflicts the west, have convictions more or less firmly held. These convictions, however, are rooted in a concept of society directly at odds with reality, that is, with the natural moral law based on God's Intellect, reflected in humanity, and discerned by reason alone. Both men, taken as exemplars of "conservative" and "liberal" (if those terms have any meaning beyond rhetorical flourishes and handy labels to remove the necessity of thinking), take for granted that there are things vaguely termed "morality," "justice," and "social justice."
Within the framework of modern western civilization, and to oversimplify somewhat, "morality" changes into persuading others to do what you want them to do based on your interpretation of what some authority you accept has declared is "good." "Justice" in this distorted understanding is a mechanism for forcing others to give you what you want based on what you have decided is "good." "Social justice" is transformed from a virtue to a vice, a means forcing others to do what you want them to do based on what you have decided is "moral," another dirty word today.
In this diseased mindset, "morality" changes from conforming one's self to objective standards of right conduct based on human nature — striving for the good, as Aristotle phrased it in his Ethics — to a matter of opinion, based on personal desires and different for each individual and group. Something stops being right because of its inherent goodness. It gets changed into being "good" because we believe that someone has so commanded, and we accept that command because in our opinion it is good — a bizarre piece of à priori reasoning. In this distorted belief system, if I agree with someone's opinion, his or her morality is good. If I disagree with someone's opinion, his or her morality is bad. Another term for morality within this mindset is "faith."
"Justice" becomes no longer a moral virtue, a part of morality, but removed from morality altogether. "Justice" becomes, in essence, the externalization of a personal desire, a way of glorifying selfishness. The understanding of justice changes from rendering to each what each is due, to coercive measures imposed on others to get me what I want. Justice, too, is a matter of opinion, but (unlike morality) can legitimately be forced on others if I, justifying my actions by redefining basic terms, can acquire enough power to do so. Another term for justice in the framework determined by Will rather than Intellect is "reason."
Given these new — and incorrect — definitions of morality and justice, "social justice" becomes a way of having your cake, and eating it, too. Social justice (or what people come to think of as social justice) combines morality and justice, or faith and reason, so that your opinion of something you accept as a moral authority can be forced on others. This understanding of social justice differs from morality in that it can be forced on others, while it differs from justice in that the one demanding it is doing it for the presumed good of others without necessarily demanding it for him- or herself. In certain cases, the one doing the demanding may even exempt him- or herself from the presumed benefits. Perhaps the best way of understanding social justice in this framework is coercive altruism, with someone else footing the bill.
A Restoration of the Natural Law
Given these understandings of morality, justice, and social justice, there is no way to correct the situation. Despite the growing conviction that there are fundamental flaws in the institutional environment within which humanity carries out the "business of living," there remains the even more fixed belief — virtually a religious dogma — that the proper corrective to social problems is to demand and implement greater and greater intrusion by the State, or to reduce the scope of the State's intrusion without correcting the flaws in the system that are causing the problems — replacing an ineffectual remedy with no remedy.
The fact is that religion and philosophy, or faith and reason, are both consistent with nature. Both faith and reason — religion and philosophy — are ways to transcend the constraints imposed by a specific culture. When we compartmentalize, that is, we separate faith and reason, or, worse, combine them and attempt to make one do the job of the other, we ensure that neither can be effective in helping us transcend the limitations of the system and help guide us in restructuring the system to conform more closely to human nature.
That is why a proper understanding of the natural moral law — a triple oxymoron in today's society, reminiscent of Voltaire's rather silly quip about the Holy Roman Empire that only demonstrated his lack of understanding of the institution — must be restored in its fullness before we can address the problems of modern society, whether economic or political, with any effectiveness.
That is why the Just Third Way, again to oversimplify somewhat, is directed toward the restoration of the natural moral law as the fundamental basis of society. Toward that end, here are the highlights of what we've been doing over the past week:
• On Monday we had what could turn out to be a very important meeting with someone who has connections with both the foundation world and the business community. More "relationship building" needs to take place, but there was great interest expressed in Justice-Based Management as one means of restructuring business to conform more closely to the principles underlying the Just Third Way.Those are the happenings for this week, at least that we know about. If you have an accomplishment that you think should be listed, send us a note about it at mgreaney [at] cesj [dot] org, and we'll see that it gets into the next "issue." If you have a short (250-400 word) comment on a specific posting, please enter your comments in the blog — do not send them to us to post for you. All comments are moderated anyway, so we'll see it before it goes up.
• Thursday we had a telephone conference with a financial professional in Kentucky who is interested in applying ethical standards in the world of finance. Some interesting ideas and action items came out of the discussion, among them possible participation in the upcoming meeting in Chicago, and the concept of a "Foundation for Economic Justice and Development," below.
• Preparations for the Chicago trip proceed apace. We have arranged meetings with two potential key "door openers" in Chicago, and are working to bring in at least three more. The main thrust of the meetings is, of course, to start opening doors to and bringing together prime movers interested in the restoration of the natural moral law. A number of specific initiatives coming under the umbrella of the Just Third Way may also be discussed, such as Justice University, contacts with media figures, CESJ's recent publications (Supporting Life and The Formation of Capital), and the Foundation for Economic Justice and Development concept.
• As noted above, the concept of a Foundation for Economic Justice and Development developed during the Thursday telephone conference. The idea is that, under the current assumption of the necessity of past savings underlying the financial system, there are still some things that might be done to advance the Just Third Way. Obviously, the ultimate goal is, as Kelso and Adler put it in the subtitle of their second collaboration, The New Capitalists (1961), to "free economic growth from the slavery of [past] savings" by restoring Say's Law of Markets and the real bills doctrine to finance widespread direct ownership of the means of production, using the financial system to create money for productive uses instead of to finance government deficits. The question is, is there any way to begin implementing broad-based direct ownership while the financial system is trapped within the past savings assumption? Yes. The initiative would, frankly, be an expedient and take advantage of tax breaks given to non-profit foundations, but could be designed to be phased out or transformed into another type of foundation — perhaps along the lines of Robert Heinlein's concept of the "Long Range Foundation" from Time for the Stars (1956) — once Capital Homesteading is in place.
• By the merest coincidence this morning, the short "blogitorial" that opens these news items was composed before the Wall Street Journal was delivered. Immediately after writing the blogitorial, we watched Mike Wallace's interview of Mortimer Adler on a special series presented by ABC and "The Fund for the Republic" from September 7, 1958. This was because the video covers more or less the same subject that we wrote about. After all that, it almost seemed more than a coincidence on reading the Wall Street Journal to find an article on the revival of the thought of Leo Strauss. ("Leo Strauss, Back and Better Than Ever," WSJ, 08/27/10, W-9.) Strauss took the radical and insidious approach that, while applications of principles might change to reflect current conditions of society and to answer human wants and needs better, the principles themselves are eternally valid. Ever since liberal academics, journalists, and conspiracy theorists discovered that many people in the Bush administration had been influenced by Strauss (however much they probably misunderstood the full implications of his natural law orientation), Strauss has been transformed into a sort of anti-neo-con bogeyman, a "neoconservative Svengali," as Brian Bolduc, the author of the article, put it. This, of course, was only to be expected in a society in which our leading educational institutions have, to all intents and purposes, become morally bankrupt, and anyone with principles discerned by the use of reason instead of some private revelation of TRVTH is instantly suspect.
• As of this morning, we have had visitors from 41 different countries and 43 states and provinces in the United States and Canada to this blog over the past two months. Most visitors are from the United States, the UK, Russia, India, and Brazil. People in Venezuela, Guatemala, Bangladesh, Poland and the United States spent the most average time on the blog. The most popular posting is the one on "The Federal Reserve . . . This Time It's Personal," followed by last week's "News from the Network," then Geoff Gneuh's piece on "Money and Morals after the Crash," then "Aristotle on Private Property," and, finally, "Catching the Wave."